Ryerson students suggest that technology could be influencing young people’s low social capital. (Fakiha Baig/Ryersonian)

Working Monday to Saturday and heading to Ryerson in the evenings for classes is the typical day-to-day of Noel Jose.

Jose, 28, is a Ryerson graduate student in the engineering department who moved to Canada from India seven years ago. He says his busy schedule gives him little time to meet new people.

Jose’s story is one of several reflected in a benchmark report by the Toronto Foundation that revealed Torontonians between the ages of 18 and 29 have the lowest social capital out of all age groups in the city. The report, titled “Toronto Social Capital,” was released last week and conducted in partnership with the Environics Institute for Survey Research.

Social capital is a term used to describe the “vibrancy of social networks” and the trust individuals in a community have in each other, according to a news release by the Toronto Foundation.

The study found that knowing one’s neighbours is one of the most significant factors affecting who does and does not have higher levels of social capital. Only one in five of those in their late 20s actually know their neighbours, the report said.

The report also found that people aged 25 to 29 have the lowest level of trust in others among all age groups, while those aged 18 to 24 have the second lowest trust level towards their communities. Jose, who now lives in Scarborough, says he isn’t surprised.

People aged 18 to 29 have lower levels of trust in others compared to older people. (Photo courtesy of the Toronto Foundation’s Social Capital Study)

“I believe most of the people in those age groups are fresh graduates and are trying to get a job, building up the career,” he said.

“You try to meet someone to get into a serious relationship, get married and all, so it’s pretty challenging to maintain your academic, professional and social life altogether,” he said. Jose also said that most young people are busy trying to become financially independent.

Alethea Ng, an 18-year-old Ryerson student, lives near Yonge and Gerrard Streets and says she has never talked to her neighbours. Ng says she thinks technology may also play a role in the dwindling social lives of youth.

Ng’s brother has friends online, but rarely spends time trying to get to know the people who are “physically around him,” she said.

“I hate say to this,” Ng adds with a laugh, “but I think it’s partly because of technology.”

Social capital is critical to a good quality of life, a healthy population, safe streets, and economic prosperity, according to Sharon Avery, president and CEO of the Toronto Foundation.

“While some residents are experiencing high levels of social capital, we cannot ignore the very real differences in our experiences of it,” she said.

The report also found that across generations, residents aged 65 and older have the strongest levels of social capital.

After surveying more than 3,000 residents across Toronto, both online and in person, the study also found that confidence has declined in the past five years amongst those under 30, especially in the police, the school system, and the justice system and courts. This same demographic also reported a low level of satisfaction when it comes to communicating with friends and relatives.

Trust is lowest among Torontonians who are struggling financially and those who identify as black, a news release by the Toronto Foundation stated.

“Toronto is seeing a period of rapid growth, and while this has many advantages, it also contributes to our city’s widening inequality,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of Wellesley Institute, a research centre that focuses on population health.

Having a social support system keeps people healthy, McKenzie said. He said the Toronto Foundation report can help the city build links between groups and bridge social capital, which is a vital component of well-being.

“We need to ensure that we build better links between groups in the city if we want good health for everyone.”


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